In a eclectic career spanning four decades, German auteur Wim Wenders has done it all: won the Palme D’or (“Paris, Texas”), created classic existentialist dramas (“Wings of Desires,” “The American Friend”), adopted digital filmmaking earlier than most (1991’s “Until the End of the World”), spawned multi-million selling albums from his music documentaries (“Buena Vista Social Club”), created an ahead-of-its-time 3D Dance documentary (“Piña“), and has celebrated some of the greatest auteurs in cinema through various documentaries and films (“Toyko Ga” about Yasujirō Ozu; “Lightning Over Water” about the final days of Nicholas Ray; the Cannes documentary “Room 666“; and helping the stroke-impaired Michelangelo Antonioni direct his final film “Beyond The Clouds”).
Wenders’ latest film “The Salt Of The Earth” (co-directed with Juliano Ribeiro Salgado) is a celebration of the gorgeous and haunting black and white works by Brazilian social documentarian and photojournalist Sebastião Salgado (read our review). It won’t be coming out theatrically until next spring, but the must-see movie — a strong Oscar contender in the doc category this year, presuming it receives an official early qualifying run— screens at DOC NYC next week. The Playlist spoke to Wenders about the film and his entire career very recently. While we’ll save most of that conversation until closer to release time, Wenders did share some exciting news.
While a lot of his early films have been out of circulation, many will be coming back theatrically and some will reach DVD for the first time via the Criterion Collection, which has already released “Wings of Desire” and “Paris, Texas.” “You’re going to see a lot of it [come out],” Wenders told The Playlist. “Except for [the detective noir] ‘Hammett,’ I produced all my films myself, so I own them all.”
So why has it been so difficult to find many of Wenders’ early films on DVD or even more than bare bones versions of more popular ones for so long? In 2002 he was wiped out because the parent company of his production company went bankrupt. “I lost everything I had ever made,” he said. “It was all in the insolvency and that’s why a lot of my films weren’t in circulation for a long time.”
But there’s a happy ending to that story. Two years ago Wenders bought back the entire catalogue with the help of the World Cinema Foundation which he is also a member of. Now, 4K digital restorations are in the works, with first ten films now completed, and the others on their way.
What’s more, Wenders say in March 2015, MOMA is planning on exhibiting those first ten movie. His debut feature “The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick” will be presented (it also screened at MOMA’s New Directors/New Films series in 1971) and “Summer In The City,” a student film sometimes considered his first feature, will also be showcased. However, it’s isn’t likely the latter will ever hit DVD due to music licensing issues. “‘Summer In The City’ is a sadder story,” Wenders said. “It cannot really be saved because the music rights would cost 10 times as much as the film cost. It has been restored, but can’t be released.”
But with Wes Anderson being able to clear songs by The Rolling Stones, The Who, and many more, and David O. Russell securing the rights to the notoriously picky and expensive Led Zeppelin several times now, aren’t music licensing rights less expensive to procure? Wenders says that depends on whether music publishers are willing to cut you a deal with you or not and in the case of his student film, which has wall to wall music by The Kinks, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Troggs, Bob Dylan and many other classic rock touchstones, he says it wouldn’t make a difference.
“’Summer In The City’ has music from everyone who is expensive,” Wenders laughed. “It’s impossible to get, from The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, it’s crazy. It’s music for two and a half hours and to get those music rights is insane.” (In a 2012 interview Wenders said the raw masters don’t exist so there is no way he can recut the film with new music).
Pressed for more about what’s coming from Criterion, Wenders seemed reluctant to get into full details, but confirmed that his Road Trilogy— “Alice In The Cities,” “The Wrong Move,” and “Kings of the Road”— would surface on the boutique DVD label (eagle-eyed cinephiles will notice that ‘Alice’ is already available on Hulu Plus’ Criterion channel).
The director spoke about 3D at length too; Wenders being of the early pioneers of the medium behind James Cameron (though not released until 2011, “Piña” was shooting before “Avatar” came out in theaters in 2009), and the filmmaker lamented the fact the 3D has fallen out of fashion and looks to be on its way out. He said that the film industry misused and abused 3D and therefore devalued it with audiences.
“I’m shocked how unexplored it still is,” he said of the stereoscopic medium that only a handful of directors have really transformed into something extraordinary. Wenders also revealed that he has shot three more films in 3D since “Piña” including the 3D drama “Every Thing Will Be Fine” starring James Franco and Rachel McAdams which he hopes will be finished and ready in time for selection at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.
Wenders latest the documentary, “The Salt Of The Earth” screens at DOCNYC next Wednesday. More from this interview closer to release.